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Ask Dr. Sears: Breastfeeding

Q. What kind of foods should I stay away from while breastfeeding my newborn? I've heard that the things I eat may not agree with her.

A. Most of the time, you can eat whatever foods you like and they won't bother your baby. In fact, since the flavor of your milk reflects what you eat, this is a good way to help your baby's developing taste buds adapt to the family favorites. Some babies, however, are sensitive to certain foods in a breastfeeding mother's diet. Signs of sensitivity include: a red, raised, sandpaper-like rash on the cheeks; colicky, abdominal pain shortly after eating; gassiness and bloating; and diarrhea. The most telling sign is a red rash around the anus  -- this acid-like burn is caused by the acidic and irritating bowel movements common to food sensitivities. Here's a step-by-step method to track down the "fuss foods" in your diet:

Make a fuss-food chart. List any symptoms your baby is exhibiting that you believe might be related to the foods you've eaten.

Eliminate the most likely suspects. A lot of behavioral quirks in babies are unfairly penned on food sensitivities. There are two foods, however, that have been scientifically shown to affect breastfeeding babies more than any other: wheat and dairy (the most common of all sensitivities). Other likely culprits are: peanuts, egg whites, raw broccoli and cabbage, corn, onions, shellfish, tomatoes, and spicy foods. Eliminate one or two of the most likely suspects. If the most obvious signs fade or disappear within a week or two, you may have identified the offending food. (If your baby is particularly miserable, you may have to eliminate all the above-listed foods at once.)

Reintroduce suspicious foods. Once a couple of weeks have passed and you believe you have pinned down the culprit, try eating this food again. (If you've removed all foods at once, add back one food at a time, taking note of your baby's reactions.) Start in very small amounts and gradually increase how much you eat. For many babies, food sensitivities are dose-related. This means that your baby may be sensitive to a glass (or two) of milk downed all at once, but may not be sensitive to the occasional half glass of milk or to yogurt. In fact, many milk-sensitive babies do just fine with yogurt, since the culturing process renders the yogurt proteins less allergenic. If it turns out that your baby is temporarily allergic to certain foods, consult a nutritionist to make sure you're getting all the nutrition you need while breastfeeding.

Most breastfeeding infants outgrow food sensitivities in their mother's diets around six months of age. At that time, the intestinal lining undergoes a maturing process called closure, in which the lining is able to screen possible allergens from entering the bloodstream. So take heart  -- whatever food eliminations you have to make in the early months will most likely not be permanent.

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